Talking about animals

You know how it is when you’re a young goshawk gripping the gloved fist, carried into the urban outdoors for only the second time in your life…

“Cars and buses rattle fumily past, and when the food is gone she stands staring at the strange world around her. So do I. I’ve been with the hawk so long, just her and me, that I’m seeing my city through her eyes. She watches a woman throwing a ball to her dog on the grass, and I watch too, as baffled by what she’s doing as the hawk is. I stare at traffic lights before I remember what they are. Bicycles are spinning mysteries of glittering metal. The buses going past are walls with wheels. What’s salient to the hawk in the city is not what is salient to man. The things she sees are uninteresting to her. Irrelevant. Until there’s a clatter of wings. We both look up. There’s a pigeon, a woodpigeon, sailing down to roost in a lime tree above us. Time slows. The air thickens, and the hawk is transformed. It’s as if all her weapons systems were suddenly engaged. Red cross-hairs. She stands on her toes and cranes her neck. This. This flightpath. This thing, she thinks. This is fascinating. Some part of the hawk’s young brain has just worked something out, and it has everything to do with death.”

That’s from Helen Macdonald’s H is for Hawk, an entertaining account of life with a vicious killer.

When we live among animals, and enjoy their presence, we come to talk about them as personal familiars. Like they’re humble deities we can rub along with, spirits from another realm licensed to roam the margins of our lives.  We may work them, house them, feed them, and even become deeply attached to them, but we know and I think appreciate the fact that we’re not obliged to fully understand them. We’ll never see through their eyes, or walk in their paws, or live inside their fur or feathers or scales.

But trying or pretending to know what’s up with them is always fun.

In some families that conversation about what the animals are up to never ends. It’s a noncontentious, enjoyable topic, one that young and old can join in equally well. I imagine it’s a conversation we’ve been having since the time when we were all of us hunters, and hunted too, when all of us decorated ourselves in bone and hide and sketched out herds in ashes on a rock face. When knowing how to think like an animal could mean life or death. 

We don’t have animals in my flat, humans aside, but we cultivate surrogate pets in this leafy suburban street — the kids are on good terms with all the neighbourhood cats while I’ve become another bit more like my Dad who, bless him, never passed a dog in town or country without stopping to address it and when necessary give it a scratch behind the ears. And I increasingly enjoy observing birds — untamed dinosaur descendants flitting among the gardens and then, when the urge takes them, migrating between hemispheres! 

So much easier than people, in some ways, who we (misguidedly?) expect to be able to understand. I think we’re drawn to animals partly because of that — because there’s less complexity in that small zone where their lives overlap with ours. But also because they’re proxies, even in their tamer guises, for our wilder selves.

Learning with our senses

Studying science in college was thrilling for me, it was exciting to put words and explanations to things I had only seen.  As I hiked through deep canyons in the Arizona desert I had wondered what made the rocks different and how they came to be in the form they were.  Wanting to understand more about rocks was what led me to the study of Earth Science.  Reading about earth history and geomorphology, how the rock cycle plays out, how life arose, how species are changing over time, the enormous span of geologic time…all these concepts were interesting to me because I had first spent time wandering through canyons looking at rocks. Continue reading “Learning with our senses”

When do you wanna start ?

Driving down the highway searching for a radio station because we only have one in Ka’u and there might be something different over here. And the announcer says “I have a challenge for all you listeners out there. I challenge each of you to go a whole day, a whole 24 hours, without complaining……..If you are really thankful you won’t complain.” A long pause, then…

“So! When do you wanna start?”

“Well…. let’s see…” says the other announcer, “why don’t we wait until tomorrow….”

An Old Oak Tree

As I was walking through the woods I stopped to admire a beautiful old oak tree.  Its massive trunk supports an enormous canopy with lower branches almost as large as the trunks of other nearby trees.  I’m sure the tree must be several hundred years old, and I thought about all the change it must have witnessed during the course of its life at the edge of a deep ravine.    Continue reading “An Old Oak Tree”

Sometimes you have to let one get away

One day not too too long ago this critter sauntered up onto the lanai, hopped up on the log, and made himself at home while surveying his kingdom.

Did not pay any of us mere humans one iota of notice.

A magnificent bird !! Long may he reign !!

Best regards to all of you
Dear Readers and Dear Writers

Giving thanks

Today is the American holiday Thanksgiving, and so I want to say thank you to everyone who has contributed to this website by stopping by and reading our articles, by sharing them with your friends, and by writing constructive and encouraging comments for the blog writers.  Thank you for being people in search of new answers (which are sometimes old answers rediscovered) and new questions.  Thank you for being a community of writer/readers, network-builders, and open-hearted learners.  Thank you also for all you do in “the real world” to make places of beauty or clean up the messes or protect the weak.

And of course,  a big huge thank you to the writers both here on this website and elsewhere for their bravery.  It can be a really scary thing to put yourself out there in writing,  on the net.   Thank you for taking that risk again and again.  We need every voice.  I know it sounds clichéd but I’ve come to realize that it’s really true.  We have to speak a new language and for that to happen we need every voice.  

So, struggle on, my friends, with courage and good will,  have a wonderful (holi)day and thank you!!!!


Waste Not, Want Not

The annual holiday celebrations have arrived and it seems a good time to think about what we are really celebrating.  It seems the historic and religious significance of these holidays have been overshadowed by consumerism.  Thanksgiving and Christmas have become celebrations of consumption filled with opportunities to eat, drink, and make merry with food and gifts.  It is the time of plenty (often purchased on credit), but do we really recognize when we have plenty?  Perhaps it’s time to pause and think about what our consumption means and if in fact, we are happier for it.

Continue reading “Waste Not, Want Not”